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Sometimes, you read something so defiantly muddle-headed, that you wonder if it is – in fact – satire. Monday, was just such an occasion. I read a post on Labour Uncut which was ostensibly evidence based, yet the holes in it were so big, the piece was more hole than substance.
The piece purported to prove that the theory of the missing 5 million votes that Labour lost between 1997 and 2010 is a core-vote strategy, and to show with numbers that it is doomed to failure.
For reasons passing understanding, the author Atul Hatwal chose to do this by comparing the ward-by-ward breakdowns from the London Assembly elections of 2012 with the London ward-by-ward breakdowns from 2010 local elections.
Where to start with why this is wrong?
Well firstly, focusing on London alone is crazy. Labour did rather well in London in 2010, or at least not as badly as we did in the country as a whole. So we were starting from a higher water mark than we would be elsewhere. This – of course – means that Labour has less ground to make up and so the distance it is possible to travel from where we were to where we need to be will be statistically less impressive than the national journey has the chance to be.
Secondly, there are real issues with comparing the data from assembly elections with the data from either General Elections or council elections. The elections were not being fought at ward level, and so much more emphasis was given to turning out a high Labour vote in areas we are strongest, and less on fighting in marginal and Tory wards. The Assembly elects through a combination of list and multiple borough constituencies. These give voters more reason to vote for smaller parties and independents than they would in a general election.
If you look at places outside London that had local elections in both 2010 and 2012 the Labour strike rate is very much higher. It was 80% on the Hatwal’s definition in Southampton, 100% in Plymouth (plus an extra ward that was even harder to win), all the wards up to a 10% swing in Reading, everything that meets the Hatwal criterion in Yarmouth, Basildon, Harlow and Ipswich. 80% (plus one extra) in Birmingham, Dudley everything up to 10% swing plus one extra. These are all key targets in mostly Lab/Con, southern, swing seats.
And then there are the glaring and really quite bizarre omissions from the analysis. There is no weighting given at all to the fact that the London Assembly elections – with the best will in the world – took a back seat to the Ken and Boris show. No credence is given – at all – to the idea that Ken Livingstone was an overall drag on the Labour ticket despite the fact that Hatwal himself wrote that this was the case in no uncertain terms after the election. On this occasion I happen to agree with him. It seems that if Hatwal and I are both right about this, it is at least likely that this is more likely to be true in Tory wards than in Labour ones, several of which saw Ken increase his vote.
But the weirdest omission of all is the complete lack of any narrative around the Lib Dems spectacular collapse. They just aren’t mentioned. Which is crazy as there’s a real story to tell about the fact that in some of their seats (for example Brent Central or Haringey and Wood Green where they failed to beat Labour in a single ward). It’s true that the fight is going to be between us and the Tories, but to simply ignore the Lib Dems like their voters aren’t good enough or are already in the bag would be a very stupid thing to do.
So the geographical basis of the piece – quite apart from laying it completely open to charges of extreme London-centricity – massively skews the findings.
Finally, the piece doesn’t even have the courage to extrapolate its own numbers to a general election, even though the implication of the piece is that this proves the 5 Million Votes strategy wrong for a future general election.
Why not? Well speaking to excellent psephologist and analyst Lewis Baston, he says that because even under this most pessimistic, flawed and cherry-picked of approaches, the result of Labour winning 51% of seats where we need a swing of 5% or less from the Tories (assuming the very least expected from the Lib Dem collapse) would leave us with approximately 299 seats and put Ed Miliband in number 10. Perhaps not with an overall majority, but certainly as leader of the largest Party. The reality may be better, it may be worse, but that would be the case according to this model. The analysis fails even on its own deeply flawed terms. No surprise Hatwal didn’t want you to know that.
Why does it matter? It’s just another blog on a website not famed for its balanced approach to Labour Party politics. But as someone who believes there might be something to this 5 Million Votes theory, it does matter to me that the theory is tested robustly by those who disagree with me.
I’d like Labour to win in such a way that opens up more space to be innovative on our left flank. I’d like Labour to have the strength and ability to mobilse a large group of voters whose loyalty is less testable than those we might peel away from the Tories (important though those undoubtedly are). But ultimately, I want Labour to win the next election and every election after that. So if those who believe a move away from alaser-like focus on triangulation will be electorally disastrous then I want them to convince me this is so for the good of Party strategy.
I loathe bad data when I see the Government use it, I loathe it when I see the left use it. If this is the best I’m going to be offered, then I’m afraid you’re a very, very long way from anything like a good argument (which is a shame, because – as you might be able to tell from this piece – I love a good argument. One that – as Monty Python taught us – is a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition (true statements by preference)).
Labour must be more robust than this. I know I intend to and I ask those who disagree with me to do the same.
this post first appeared on Labour List.
The Labour party has always understood and been uniquely informed by the class struggle and the struggling classes. This is not to say that we are solely a party of the working class – that has never been true. But our strength has been in the finding of common interests between the working and middle classes, and formatting policies that allowed both better lives for themselves and better dreams for their children.
This was considerably easier when the social strata of the UK was more clearly delineated. To paraphrase the Frost Report, the upper classes wore bowler hats and the working classes knew their place. But if class ever was that clear-cut, it certainly isn’t now. It’s a more elusive beast, shadowy and ill-defined by a combination of our jobs, education levels, property ownership and history.
Most people who would once have fit the bill as working class don’t define themselves as different from those who define as middle class. So with David Cameron claiming to be the “sharp elbowed middle class” (despite being related to the Queen), thus putting himself in the same category as an admin assistant living in a one bedroom flat, class consciousness is not the political incentive it once was. In some ways, John Major was right, the classless society has almost come about, with the middle class engulfing all but the underclass and royalty – the welfare classes at the top and bottom.
Labour only works as a party when we attract an alliance of working class and middle class voters and speak to their concerns. This is why I like the phrase “the squeezed middle” and agree with Ed’s attempts not to define this too restrictively. The squeezed middle as a group of voters instinctively recognises itself without needing that definition. Far more of us than live in the actual median of income self-define as middle, and boy do we feel squeezed.
Recently, much discussion of class has also been an examination of racial politics, and of the “white working class”. This has been greatly exposed in places like Oldham and Barking and in smaller ways in towns and cities around the country. Labour must not fall into the trap of pandering to racism or playing with the fire of race politics. It would be as destructive as it would be divisive and would ultimately cause real harm to the body politic and to Labour. But equally, we cannot simply write these voters off as racist bigots who deserve no audience from Labour. They have real and genuine concerns which Labour can address without making impossible and ungenuine promises on immigration.
The white working class is part of the totality of the working classes that Labour is there to represent. If we don’t represent all the working classes – and a chunk of the middle too – we will never have a democratic mandate to represent anyone.
They may not express the same ideas as some of us in Labour on race, but I don’t believe these voters are inherently racist. They are suffering from the lack of decent housing and a squeeze on services that come when shifting communities aren’t kept pace with by school, hospital and housing services as well as employment opportunities.
Labour should be the party championing great public services for all anyway. Targeting them at poorer areas which have really felt the squeeze is the right thing to do as well as being electorally beneficial. Planning strategies for public service supply from communities could give Labour a better idea how to run national services that don’t leave these communities behind. That is a far better strategy than either turning our backs and abandoning them or attempting to game their anger to our electoral advantage.
There is plenty negative to be said about our current government. The havoc they are wreaking in just about every area of public life is horrendous. But Labour can’t sit back and wait for voters to return just because the Tory-led government is so awful.
We need a positive offer to take forward to voters. Perhaps by listening to the concerns that lie beneath the divisive language, concerns that actually straddle those divides, we can start to see what it is we need to offer voters and start to work out how to do that.
This piece first appeared on Labour Uncut.
There’s a very interesting post on Labour Uncut today, from Tom Watson. Essentially Tom is repeating gossip from a senior Tory that they might consider breaking the coalition and going for an early election in May.
These ideas aren’t plucked from the ether, and Tom has clearly been given this line by someone, but ideas like this don’t always get floated because they will happen.
Sometimes they are floated because people want to see what the reaction to the idea would be before deciding whether or not to implement it. A negative response means the idea will quietly be dropped while it remains unattributable gossip, a positive response might elicit a stronger action.
On the other hand – and for me the most likely scenario – the idea is being floated not to test its popularity, but to remind some people that it is a possibility.
The possibility of the Tories breaking the coalition will terrify the Lib Dems, putting them firmly back in their boxes, and (partly) assuage the Tory right, who will be pleased to know this option is being considered. If we let it, it could also wrong foot Labour who are (rightly as I have said) taking their time to renew and revise our policies.
Cameron can’t really want an election now, as the electorate would punish him for turning on his own five years built to last rhetoric, and Osborne would be furious if Labour got a chance to get their hands on the instruments of power before the cuts had a chance to be fully embedded and the state shrunk.
Ironically, I’m willing to believe there is a strong possibility that the possibility of the coalition being broken is being floated in order to remind MPs on both sides what they get from it, and to strengthen it through its current wobble.